EPA Agrees to Review Oil and Gas Air Pollution Regulations to Resolve Lawsuit by Environmental Groups
In response to a lawsuit filed by a number of different environmental groups, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to reevaluate regulations on the levels of pollution from oil and gas facilities, as well as equipment used by the industry.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia approved a consent decree (PDF) on Monday, which resolved claims brought by the groups California Communities Against Toxics, Coalition for a Safe Environment and Sierra Club, who sought to force the agency to review air pollution standards for oil and gas facilities.
Research has found that people living near oil and gas facilities may be exposed to high levels of toxic air pollutants stemming from wells, facilities, and other machinery. Exposure to oil and gas pollutants is detrimental to human health and can increase the risk of cancer, neurological conditions, and developmental side effects, leading to calls for stricter regulations.
Oil and Gas Air Pollution Regulations Lawsuit
The groups filed a lawsuit against the EPA last year, after the agency failed to update the regulations of the Clean Air Act, which should be done every eight years. The groups noted the regulations have not been updated since 2012, alleging that the outdated regulations do not cover certain oil and gas equipment and operations, which could emit toxic pollutants and created a loophole in the law.
Under current regulations, oil and gas companies are allowed to emit hazardous air pollutants largely unchecked. This affects millions of residents who live near these facilities and disproportionately affects people of color.
More than 57 million people live within 30 miles of oil and gas-producing facilities in the United States.
The lawsuit claims the regulations finalized by the EPA in 2012 should have included limits on emissions from oil and gas equipment, processes that might emit pollutants, storage tanks, oil wells, impoundments, waste storage pits, and other facilities that can leak gasses during operation or due to malfunctions.
Environmental advocates sued the EPA for failing to respond to requests to update regulations for nearly a decade.
Oil and Gas Air Pollution Consent Decree
Under the recently approved consent decree, the EPA agreed to meet three court-enforced deadlines. The first deadline, February 2024, calls for the EPA to issue a proposed rule on illegal emissions.
The second deadline in December 2024 requires the EPA to issue final action on illegal air pollution and sign a proposed rule focusing on the review of the oil and gas emission standards.
The final deadline is December 2025, when the EPA has agreed to finalize revisions to the oil and gas air pollution standards.
The EPA agreed to the timeline and requirements of the consent decree, however, the agency did not agree to make specific changes requested by the environmental groups.
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Air pollution exposure from any source reduces a person’s life expectancy by an average of one year, according to some studies.
Exposure to air pollution has been linked to an increased likelihood of developing asthma in children and other respiratory problems, like bronchitis and wheezing. Exposure during childhood has also been linked to developing heart disease and other heart problems later in adulthood.
Air pollution can also lead to accelerated aging and an increased risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative diseases. Research also suggests living near gas flares can increase the risk of preterm birth in expectant mothers. Air pollution may cause 6 million preterm births and 3 million underweight babies every year around the world.
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